Emmons County was organized in November of 1883. Thousands of German-Russians immigrated to the area around Eureka, now in South Dakota, and then spread out from there. As a result, a large portion of Emmons County was settled by these people who had fled their homeland to escape political persecution. They were suspicious of politics and politicians and tended to stick together when it came to making decisions. So it was important for political candidates to gain the confidence of the leaders of the German-Russian community – or was there another way?
On this date in 1892, word had reached Williamsport, the county seat, that an attempt had been made to buy the votes of the German-Russian community in the southern part of the county. It was alleged that Henry Van Beek, J. A. Cotton, S. E. Brindle and Charles Lock approached John Miller, a community leader who had been appointed as election inspector for Selz Township, to make a deal. They would offer fifty dollars to the Catholic Church near Selz for each successful candidate if H. A. Armstrong won the office of county auditor, Brindle the office of clerk of court, and Lock the office of sheriff. If these individuals were not successful in their bids, the money would be returned.
But John Miller had no intention of providing the votes, and he turned the money over to Franz Wolf, who informed the members of the community of the attempted bribe. The voters in Selz Township went decidedly against Armstrong, Brindle and Lock, but the Selz Township vote wasn’t decisive – Armstrong won handily, while Lock and Brindle went down in defeat by significant margins.
In an interesting development, it was decided that the votes from Selz Township should be tossed out due to irregularities in the voting procedures. Many of the Russians could not read, and therefore they were given a notched stick to show them where to mark their ballots. The canvassing board deemed this irregular conduct and the votes were not counted. But two other contests, one for county treasurer and the other for states attorney hinged on this vote. After a decidedly heated court battle, the votes were reinstated, reversing the election for those two offices.
In the end, the bribe money was returned, and no one was arrested. The state was only three years old and this was only a small example of what would eventually encompass a very interesting political history.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
Emmons County Record November 11, 18, 1892, December 2, 9, 16 and 30, 1892.